Six families with children aged 5 to 11 took part in Sunflower’s summer camp this year. The venue this year was different: they stayed at a centre in Komarovo beside the Finnish Gulf as the log cabin (the dacha) required some repair and later a dramatic fire happened at the site.
A new location offered lots of scope for outdoor fun and games, and as usual special training was organised for both parents and children. Many of the activities related to the levels of freedom and responsibility that the parents give their children as they grow and establishing an appropriate balance. The children were able to explore the theme too through a fairy story, ‘Dwarf Long-nose’ in which a little boy has to cope with a magical transformation so complete that his parents don’t recognise him.
This is the scene in Dolbeniki at the dacha used by Sunflower for their summer camps. A serious accident at a local electrical substation led to a power surge and a wave of fires hit the area.
The free-standing dining room caught fire immediately, destroying the building, the furniture and also the kitchen equipment, which was stored there. Fortunately, no-one was hurt. The fire brigade arrived swiftly and the fire was extinguished. It did not spread to any of the other buildings used during the summer camps.
Sunflower are assessing the damage and the cost of creating a new eating area so that they can run summer camps there again. Meanwhile, volunteers have started to clear the site already, although the weather will soon force a break in the work. Serious work will start in spring 2024, when we hope to be able to help Sunflower recover.
They worked out the menus and the budget for a significant part of the trip. During the hike, the most challenging part was navigating the route and identifying suitable places to camp. Some of these experiences caused stress and anxiety, but the staff were there to help the young people cope with their difficulties. Over this short time, the young people grew more confident and resilient. This will be particularly useful for the three who are preparing to leave the programme, having worked with Sunflower for a few years. At the end of the hike, one of the young people said, “Now I can understand what my aims are for the summer more clearly, and I’m confident that I can reach them.
Alongside the walking and camping, the young people also had exercises to help them reflect. One interesting game was to find objects in their surroundings that expressed their personality. Their answers give us quite an insight. One likened themself to a little ant carrying a heavy load, another to a hare, which is scared all the time, but carries on. Kostya said, “I am like a path. Everyone walks on me, but I am solid and unchanging.”
Summing up at the end, one of the group said, “I was beginning to realise, but now I understand properly that I have to look after myself. Before I looked after the cat and my friends better than myself.” Sunflower will help the group transfer this learning into their ordinary every day lives back in St Petersburg. It should give them a great step forward as they become more independent and resilient.
When Yunes first came to the club for deaf and hearing impaired pre-school children in January his family was struggling with his behaviour. Now just a few months later we see a huge difference in him, and his mama does at home too. This will help him enormously when he startes kindergarten in September.
Yunes comes from a bi-lingual family and he uses a cochlear implant. When our colleagues first met him he was almost two and a half years old. Yunes found it very difficult to sit still, he didn’t play with other children, he didn’t keep to any rules and he didn’t react to sounds or to speech.
He regularly came to the club we sponsor with his mother. This is a weekly playgroup with specific support for deaf and hearing impaired children. The club includes a music session, snack time, craft activities, free play and specialist support to adjust hearing aids. Since coming to the club, Yunes’ behaviour has changed a great deal. All the activities are designed to help the children tune into their surroundings. This has certainly worked for Yunes. Now he pays much more attention to what is going on around him. He watches closely what other people are up to and learns how to use the toys and the musical instruments in this way. He doesn’t just copy movements, he has also started to repeat sounds including individual syllables from some of the songs we sing together. He has learned to play with other children and joins in with all the activities we organise.
We love it that at the end of an activity Yunes helps put the toys or instruments away. He also really enjoys helping get ready for snack time. He puts the cups and plates on the table and helps clear away at the end.
His mama says that at home Yunes has learned how to listen and understand what his parents are asking him to do. She has learned to see his strengths and both takes pleasure in and praises Yunes for all his little successes. We are delighted to see their relationship strengthening and Yunes developing the skills he will need to be happy and to make further progress at kindergarten.
Thank you for making it possible for us to support Yunes and his family.
Our partner organisation, Sunflower, supports young people who grew up in children’s homes. For many, the support group is the best way of supporting them. For some with complex needs, a period of individual support, either on its own or alongside the group, is more appropriate. This individual help can be in the form of counselling or helping to resolve practical issues.
Vadim is 19 years old and is one of those being supported individually, as well as being part of the group. Sunflower have worked with Vadim for about a year and a half. During that time he has moved into his own flat, left to him by his parents.
Our colleagues are working on a whole range of issues with Vadim. Firstly, they are helping him understand which documents he needs and why. They are helping him go through a medical commission so that he doesn’t lose his disabled status. In parallel, they are working with Vadim to help him understand and accept his special needs.
Again, on a practical front, our colleagues are working out with him what maintenance work is needed on his flat and how he can make it comfortable.
Most urgently, because of his special needs, Vadim finds it difficult to build safe and trusting relationships. He has often been taken advantage of by so-called “friends”. He is the first to admit that he can’t say “no” to them. “I am afraid they will kill me if I don’t give them money.” After the last incident, our colleagues helped Vadim understand how he could avoid this kind of situation, and where he can turn for help if he feels threatened.
For Vadim, the next step is helping him to find a job and adjust to working life. We wish him well.
Back in the first lock-down of the pandemic, we helped Communication Space set up an online counselling service for parents whose children have special needs.
The pandemic crisis may have passed, but parents can still easily find themselves overwhelmed, particularly in a society that has little positive to say about disabled people. So we have continued to fund the service, and are delighted that a second, local funder has also been found. This means that more families can be reached – 109 families in the last year. Each family can access a course of individual counselling as well as support groups led by psychologists.
The feedback we have is very positive. Yulia wrote,
” I need these groups because they help me feel more stable. This influences how I feel about my child’s special needs, my relationship with the professionals we work with, and relationships within our family. In the end it influences the quality of my choices for child’s education and socialisation.”
Natalia can point to a very concrete improvement in her quality of life. Thanks to the course, she has been able to improve her relationship with her mother.
We are also delighted that Communication Space have been able to set up a training flat. Sergei stays the night once a week with other young adults. This is the first time he has slept anywhere other than at home. At first he found this distressing, but now he is much more settled. While Sergei learns valuable life skills, like cooking, his mother Lydia gets some essential respite. For the first time, she has time she can call her own, to get things done, to spend time with her other children, or just to rest.
In February, our long standing supporters, Damon de Laszlo and Alexandre Demidoff, the President of the European Demidoff Foundation, organised a fabulous reception at the iconic Lord Byron’s Chambers, Albany. The evening raised a wonderful £6,500 towards Sunflower’s work with orphanage-leavers that St Gregory’s is helping to fund.
We are very grateful to our organisers, to our Patron, HRH Prince Michael of Kent for attending and speaking about Sunflower Centre, which he has visited. Below you can read a copy of his speech.
As Patron of St Gregory’s Foundation, I am very pleased to be here with you all this evening, and thank you for coming.
St Gregory’s remains one of the very few British charities approved by the Charity Commission to operate in Russia and help the most disadvantaged. And it has been doing so for the last 32 years. In these devastating times in Ukraine and the resulting crises, this amazing small charity continues to work hard helping children and families in dire need – the homeless in Georgia, refugee children and families in Ukraine, orphans and disabled children in Russia.
Today we are raising funds for our partner the Sunflower charity in St Petersburg and their work with children after leaving their orphanage. Sunflower enables people with non-visible disabilities to gain the support they need. When I visited them in October 2021, I returned highly impressed by their compassion and commitment to the young people in their care. That includes reducing the risk of dangerous behaviour and providing them with a smooth transition to independent living. And it teaches parents how to take care of their children and build a harmonious life. Your contributions tonight will help make it happen.
I would like to thank the generous long-standing supporter of St Gregory’s and sponsor of tonight’s evening: Damon De Laszlo. We warmly welcome Alexandre Demidoff and the European Demidoff Foundation, our close and long-standing partner for 12 years. The Foundation under the Patronage of my cousin Princess Elizabeth Karageorgevitch consistently supports St Gregory’s, through funding, and it introduces our important work to loyal supporters and new members, many of whom we meet for the first time today. Especially welcome are those guests who have travelled from Switzerland and Italy to attend today’s event. You all are new friends to St Gregory’s and go to prove that our network of supporters is expanding internationally.
By helping St Gregory’s Foundation you help us to continue our work in the best traditions of British and European philanthropy.
We are deeply grateful. Thank you.
Photo: HRH Prince Michael of Kent GCVO, Contessa Giulia Farneti Merenda Salecchi, Avv. Giancarlo Parrini
Emotionally stable parents seem to know naturally how to play with their children. The parents Sunflower supports grew up in children’s homes and they need to learn this essential skill.
Lida’s childhood was marked by multiple traumas: alcoholic parents, time in a children’s home, and several failed adoption placements before she was successfully placed with her present family. She now lives in Lensovietsky, the suburb featured in our last newsletter, where Sunflower has recently set up a support group due to the high number of care-leavers in the area.
Lida was rather passive and would just say, “you see, she doesn’t listen to me”. The Theraplay method involves repeating the same simple games. This means that it is easy for the child to learn the rules and for the parents to concentrate on their child. Sunflower had a breakthrough when Liza’s dad also started coming to sessions. He too grew up in a children’s home and came from a family of alcoholics. He is rather jealous of Lida’s relationship with her adoptive family, and this makes it difficult for her to get support from them. This puts a strain on her relationship with Liza’s dad.
Theraplay has helped bring the three of them closer together. Lida values the sessions now and is keen not to miss them. She chats to her daughter and gives her cuddles. In return, Liza will ask her mama for help and also does what she is told more often. It’s obvious that Liza really likes playing with her mama and papa now. She particularly likes being swung in a blanket.
Sunflower continues to work despite the very difficult climate. With foreign funding from many quarters disappearing and local funding also drying up many local charities have had to cut services. Sunflower continues to support 21 families in crisis, including 30 children.
Our charity shop has unique gifts handcrafted in Georgia and Russia, exclusive card designs, jewellery, books, toiletries and more. Each purchase helps vulnerable children and families in Eastern Europe.